Gear Spotlight – Ensoniq ASR-10

Ensoniq ASR-10
The Ensoniq ASR-10

The ASR-10 is one of the oldest pieces of gear in my setup but still holds a very central role. I use it as my main keyboard (the weight of the keys on the 88-keys keyboard is very nice and it feels familiar), and I also use it to add lo-fi character to clean samples.

I grew up on sample-based music during the “golden era” of Hip Hop & House. Due to the technology of the time, those classics that I grew up on included subtle gear noise, bit reduction, and aliasing imparted by the popular samplers of the day (MPC, SP12, ASR mainly). So, for me, the ultra-clean sound of today’s production is – well – lacking something.

Here’s my general process for dirtying up a clean sample:

  • Find a clean sample I like and throw it into Ableton Simpler
  • Sample the clean version in MONO into Maschine
  • Record the clean version through the Soundcraft mixer into my (Technics RS-TR355) cassette tape deck
  • Sample the cassette tape version into the ASR (with or without any ASR onboard effects).
  • Record the “dirty” ASR sample into a new pad in Maschine
  • Link the dirty version and the original clean version pads in Maschine and mix the levels to taste
  • Play them together and resample in Maschine to a single pad
  • Have fun

With my (Soundcraft Signature 12MTK) mixer this process is pretty quick. The Soundcraft’s multi-track USB audio interface allows any VST/AU/AAX/TDM/RTAS plug-ins to be inserted on any input channel. Then, sending output to the tape recorder is just a matter of turning up a send on that mixer channel.  The output of the cassette recording is connected to a dedicated channel on the mixer and I have a dedicated channel send that sends audio to the ASR.

I find that playing the original clean sample together with the dirty one does much more than adding some unique character. It also obviously fattens up the sound as you’re layering samples. The end results can be much more interesting and (here’s the point!) unique to you.

Of course, you don’t need an ASR to try this yourself, it just ads an extra bit of ASR-10 character that I enjoy! (There are some great plugins like Decimort that include vintage synth emulations including the ASR-10).

You could just use a cheap cassette recorder and/or cheap mixer. The main point is to take things out of your computer and then bring them back in using any gear that is likely to leave a sonic imprint on the original sound.

Curious about the ASR-10? Find out more about why people love it in the short video below.

ASR-10 Specs can be found here.

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Detroit House – An Interview with KDJ / Moodyman

“Kenny Dixon Jr., AKA Moodymann, is one of the most enigmatic and charismatic figures in house music. Despite his refusal to give interviews and play the press-and-promo game, Dixon Jr.’s voice has been clearly amongst the loudest when it comes to preserving the rich heritage of Afro-American music while fighting the industry powers that be. Blessed with an immaculate way of sampling, he takes stems from blues and soul and respectfully takes them to the next level. From his dark and dusty deep house tunes on Peacefrog, Planet E and his own KDJ label, to R&B-drenched outings on the Mahogani Music imprint, Moodymann’s fingerprint is unmistakable.”

Dance music royalty? No doubt.

As a very young kid running a record shop in the very early 90’s, I was lucky enough to rub elbows with some of dance music’s biggest names before this thing we call “House” was even on the mainstream cultural radar.

I have fond memories of some of the very first Winter Music Conference events (WAY before Ultra and any sniff of corporate involvement). One of them was being at the Fountainbleu bar when a hush and then murmurs of “it’s Mel” flittered around the place.

In he walked, followed by a small entourage. It was only later in life that I had the honour of connecting with him briefly again via the record store, at which point he sent me a prized West End t-shirt.

Find out more about Mel and the famed West End label in this great video.

Using Sample & Hold

“Sample & Hold” is a really useful feature that is sometimes overlooked. It can quickly turn the shortest of sounds into a never-ending sonic landscape.

Here’s a quick video I’ve done, demonstrating it with the use of a great free reverb plugin, called Ambience. You can download Ambience and hundreds of other curated free plugins once you register at Plugin Boutique.

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Working in key. It’s all in the formula!

Here’s a useful tip on understanding basic scales for those of you who aren’t the greatest at music theory but want to start experimenting and make sure you are staying in complementary keys to your samples. First off, on any keyboard, each key (white or black) represents what is called a semi-tone.

Piano Keyboard

With this in mind, depending on whether you are in a Major or Minor, the rule for determining the scale is as follows:

Major scale: Tone-Tone-Semitone-Tone-Tone-Tone-Semitone
Minor scale: Tone-Semitone-Tone-Tone-Semitone-Tone-Tone

So how do you put those formulas to use?

Let’s say you are starting out your track with a loop from a sample pack that is listed as being in Cmajor. If you put your fingers on the keyboard for a CMaj they will be on the blue keys below. (If you aren’t sure where your fingers would be placed for any chord, you can use this)


We are in a Major scale, so we’ll use the major formula. Moving from the first key in your chord (C) just count up key this way: Tone-Tone-Semitone-Tone-Tone-Tone-Semitone.

So what you would get is C – D – E – F – G – A – B – C. This is the scale of C, and all these individual keys will be complimentary. You can play them individually with your chord, or you can make complimentary chords using combinations of them. (C is a unique scale in that it’s Major scale is made of all white keys).

What if we started with a Dmajor though? Well, starting with our finger on D, if we then count up Tone-Tone-Semitone-Tone-Tone-Tone-Semitone we get the following: D-E-F#-G-A-B-C#-D. This is the scale of D, which includes some white and some black keys.

So again, these keys can be played in succession individually (let’s say to make a bassline to compliment your Dmaj) or they can be used in combination to create complimentary chords (like an AMaj or a GMaj for example).

So how can you put this to use in the studio?

Let’s say you find a sample from a sample pack and it’s in a CMaj. A great next step is to take some pieces of coloured tape and stick them to the keys in that scale – remember for a major just take the root key and then count up Tone-Tone-Semitone-Tone-Tone-Tone-Semitone, sticking a piece of tape on each key.

You can now start playing with sounds and using these keys individually come up with some great accompanying melodies or basslines. Or you can use some of these keys in combinations to make complimentary chords. (If the complimentary chord bit is a bit confusing remember you can always refer to the Camelot wheel (below) and then use this chord finder to find complimentary chords.)

Camelot Wheel

Use the same method when working with samples in Minor keys – the process is the same, but in the case of minor chords just use the formula for a minor scale, which is: Tone-Semitone-Tone-Tone-Semitone-Tone-Tone. Again, this will help you to determine what keys make up the minor scale of your root note.

Just memorizing those two patterns and having some coloured tape handy in the studio will begin to build a great foundation for you and really start to open your eyes to the basics of music theory, making your music making a much more enjoyable process. In the end, your track will sound much more professional and pleasing to the ear, because the parts you play in will be in key.

Want a little extra help? There are great tools out now that can help you create great chord progressions without being a trained musician. Check out Loopmasters Deep House & Jazz Chords Ableton Rack, or Plugin Boutique’s Scaler.

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What Reverb?

d16 Torraverb 2Getting to know the different types of reverbs and how to use them in your productions is an essential part of creating good mixes. Most of us will have a few different reverb types that come with your chosen DAW, 3rd party plugins, or hardware of choice. You’ve almost certainly seen terms such as “Plate”, “Hall”, “Spring”, “Room” & “Convolution” & “Algorithmic” in forums or magazines. This post will attempt to help explain the basic differences between reverb types and hopefully help you choose the right reverb for the job in hand.


The hall reverb is one of the most commonly used types of reverb. As the name suggests they are designed to emulate the reverberation effect of large halls, or other large spaces such as theatres or even churches. Real life reverberation in a concert hall is characterized by a long reverberation, and hall reverb setting that emulates that environment will do the same.

Since these types of reverbs are great for modelling large natural physical spaces, it’s no wonder that they are a common go-to reverb. However, it’s important not to get carried away when using them. If you apply too much of a hall reverb in a mix the long reverberations can make your mix sound too distant or drowned out, or just plain muddy.

It’s worth noting that many algorithmic reverbs that emulate hall reverbs now have parameters which can be configured to produce effects that are completely “unnatural” and help you avoid that pitfall. For example, with modern digital processors you can have the depth and spaciousness of a large hall, but without having the long tail muddying up your mix. Many high-end digital reverbs also use modulation which can add richness to the signal.

Hall reverbs are rich, warm and big. They are generally a good choice for adding some three-dimensional ambience to your mix. Because they are big, they are often used to fill out the back end of your mix – adding some depth without overpowering the front of your mix.


A room reverb is similar to hall reverb, normally designed to emulate the reverberation of something being recorded in a room. Because they are emulating smaller spaces than halls, this results in the reverberations being much faster with faster decays. (Think of clapping your hands in a small room versus a church and how that would sound). For this reason, things like drums and guitars are good candidates for room reverbs.

Room reverb is a great choice to add some realism to instruments that are recorded by a microphone in very close proximity to the instrument and are also very good for adding some character to an instrument that is recorded directly into our sound card or DAW. A decent room reverb will give the listener a sense that the instrument is being played in a real room.

As with the case of Hall reverbs, misuse of the room reverb can also have detrimental effects. Too much room reverb in your mix can overemphasise the “smallness” of the environment, making it sound boxy or small. Also, too much of a poor room reverb will often add resonances that don’t work well with your mix. Even a more sophisticated room reverb can make the recording sound distant from the instrument if overused.

A common parameter in reverb units that you shouldn’t overlook is is Pre-delay Time. Good use of this will allow you to add sufficient room reverb to your instruments but still keep them sounding “present” in the mix. Pre-delay allows you to specify the amount of time between the start of the direct sound and the start of the first sonic reflection.

By increasing the Pre-Delay, you can create a small gap between the initial onset of your sound and the beginning of the reverberations – what you are looking for is a nice blend between the two that makes your instrument sound “close” but also gives the listener a sense of the “room” it’s in.


Plate reverbs emulate very early methods of generating a reverb.

‘During the ’60s and ’70s, most artificial reverb used on recordings was generated using a reverb plate, sometimes called (inaccurately) an echo plate. The reverb plate is an ingeniously simple device, but it takes a lot of tweaking at the design stage to get it sounding right. Plates work by suspending a thin sheet of metal under tension within a rigid frame via springs or clamps attached to the corners.

A transducer similar to the voice-coil of a cone loudspeaker is used to inject audio energy into the plate and two or more contact mics fixed to the surface of the plate then pick up the vibrations inside it and feed them to preamps connected to the console effect returns. By feeding the different contact mics to the left and right channels, a pseudo-stereo reverb output is created.

Plates have a similar sound to hall reverbs that is usually denser and flatter and more two-dimensional sounding. They are clean and bright sounding and are great at adding some overall length and size to a sound without it making it sound distant or small. As a result, they often sound amazing on vocals or snare drums – and because they are different to hall reverbs and don’t add the same feel of distance or depth they can often blend better with the original sound.

As a result of their unique characteristics, plate reverbs are making a bit of a come-back now that more accurate digital emulations are now available to the “in the box” producer.


Historically, spring reverbs have been adopted by those who could not afford the more expensive plate reverbs or simply didn’t have the space for a plate reverb in their studio. They are also still commonly found in guitar amplifiers.

The mechanics of a spring reverb are similar to a plate reverb in that a sound is injected into it and the coil of the spring then reverberates and those reverberations are then recorded. However, because of the physical characteristics of springs vs. plates, spring reverbs can also add a characteristic ringing sound and can also feedback into themselves.

Generally speaking, spring reverbs are usually used on individual instruments to add their unique characteristic sound, rather than on a whole mix or set of sounds. For example, if you use it on a guitar it can add a twangy bounce to it. Used on other instruments such as electric piano or an organ it can add a vintage warmth and dimension to the sound.

Due to the twangy nature of spring reverbs, you probably wouldn’t usually use one on vocals or drums, but they can add a weird psychedelic effect if that is what you are after. Like other reverbs, adding too much spring reverb in a mix will make it sound distant and often lo-fi.


With the advent of computers able to perform intricate and multiple calculations very quickly, variations of the traditional reverb effects are now possible. Digital reverbs (also called algorithmic reverbs) use various signal processing algorithms in order to create a reverb effect.

As these include calculated processing by a computer, they often include many additional parameters that aren’t included in a traditional reverb effect. These additional parameters can make them very versatile, especially if you are wanting to emulate a traditional natural sounding reverb, but with a few extra “unnatural” bells and whistles.

For example, most high-end algorithmic reverbs also have modulation – meaning the internal parameters of the reverb subtly move and change over time. This can produce a rich and organic effect. Furthermore, many include LFOs and envelope followers. The LFOs will change the parameters of the reverb constantly over time, and the envelope followers allow the reverb parameters to dynamically respond to the level of the audio signal.

When these are used subtly, it can inject life and motion to the reverb sound. If they are used at extremely high settings it can create strange effects and the characteristics of a reverb to jump around dramatically.


A convolution reverb is a kind of reverb that uses samples, (which are often called impulses) of real-life acoustic spaces. The process in itself is a pretty heavy mathematical equation which it is why they have only become available in the recent years. Convolution reverbs can produce a very realistic snapshot of a particular acoustic space and as such are often great for post-production in things like film effects.

Unlike many of their algorithmic reverb counterparts, convolution reverbs may have a more limited ability to modify the various reverb parameters that are included in a standard algorithmic reverb.

However, in most cases convolution reverbs will include options to use impulses that are not modelled after natural spaces to produce reverbs that don’t necessarily sound like any natural acoustic space. As an example, if you are into experimental sound design you can try feeding all sorts of impulses into your reverb to see what you end up with. The beauty of a convolution reverb is that it allows you to experiment with just about any impulse and see what it produces.

So that sums up our little look at various types of reverbs and their characteristics. I hope you’ve got a better sense of the basics – and of course, we’ve really only scratched the surface. I will leave you with a couple of common reverb effects worth trying out in your own production, no matter what reverb you end up choosing.


Reverse reverb is also sometimes referred to inverse reverb and is exactly what the names suggests – a reverb that runs backwards. So instead of the reverb starting with the sound and gradually decaying, it starts quietly and gets louder until the original sound is heard. Before the days of digital reverbs this effect was created by recording a reverb whilst the tape ran backwards, then playing the tape forwards again.

Of course, these days if you are working in a DAW all you need to do is record a reverb from a sound, reverse it and play it back.

This is an unnatural effect but works very well with introducing vocals or leads and can also create unusual ambient parts.


The gated reverb effect became very popular in the 80’s and 90’s and was heavily used by artists such as Phil Collins and Michael Jackson. The way these were usually set up was by inserting a gate after the reverb and triggering the gate with the pre-reverb sound. The gate time would be adjusted so that the initial bursts of reverb come through, but the tail end of the reverb is cut dead.

The effect was often used to add power and body to snare drums and other percussive instruments.

Many modern reverb processors will emulate a gated reverb by using an algorithm that creates a variation of the traditional gated reverb effect. In this case, instead of the reflections of the reverb gradually building up in time before they are gated, they will stay at a constant level.

On a sparse, short instrument with no overlapping parts (such as a regular snare beat), this emulation sounds very close to a gated reverb. However, on sustained melodies like vocals, the effect is different. The result can be that it sounds more like the reverb is following the melody line. Generally, this effect can be useful if you want a large or wet reverb sound that doesn’t decay for very long.

Of course, if you are after the traditional gated effect, you can simply insert a gate on your reverb and set it up as previously mentioned, and this will yield slightly different results.

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Plugin Review – D16 Decimort

D16 Decimort
D16 Decimort 2 – Bit Crusher

One of the plugins I’m using regularly these days is D16 Group’s Decimort 2.

Classed as a bit-crusher, it’s also legitimate to say that it’s a classic sampler emulation. It includes some presets that emulate the sound of legendary samplers like the MPC60. Throw this on a drum rack’s output with a nice MPC swing on the drums and you’re about as close as you’ll get without owning one.

One of the things that really impressed me is that aside from the usual MPC emulations, the D16 guys also included an often unsung hero in the classic sampler world – the ASR10. It’s about the only ASR10 emulation I’ve come across, and as an owner of a hardware version, I can say it does a good job of replicating the characteristics of this vintage sampler. Check out Decimort 2.

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Gear Spotlight – Akai MFC 42

In my searches for an analogue filter, I explored quite a few options and ultimately ended up on the AKAI MFC42.

One of the things that ultimately persuaded me to take the leap was this video with Ian Pooley extolling its virtues.

Like Ian, I find that I’m using this on just about every track, whether it’s to give pads movement, creatively filter loops, or to add some analogue grit to my drums. I love this machine and am thrilled it will be in my studio for a long time to come.

It definitely ads character in a way that in my view only hardware can, and I like the tactile approach, especially with a filter. It’s also a definite investment. If you’re not keen on splashing out on a hardware filter, there are some quality filter plugins that also do a great job for less money.

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